Qantas debuts a new wellness-focused airplane program on its fuel-efficient, jet lag-busting Boeing Dreamliner. Will its self-tinting windows and roomy seating arrangements help your circadian rhythm? Fathom contributor Larkin Clark finds out on one very long flight.
MELBOURNE, Australia — It doesn’t matter if you’re traveling for work or pleasure: Jet lag is a real drag. The last thing you want to do is spend your first day in a new destination on the brink of exhaustion and swollen from the in-flight food — and yet frequently, that’s exactly what happens to travelers.
That’s why, on paper, the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner sounds like a long-haul passenger’s dream come true: It promises to mitigate jet lag, increase passenger cabin space, and boost fuel efficiency in one fell swoop. Qantas recently added the Dreamliner to its fleet, launching a new route from Melbourne to Los Angeles and Perth to London. The latter is pretty big news, as it’s the third longest-haul flight in the world and the first time Australia and Europe have been connected by a single, non-stop flight.
Qantas made things even more interesting by teaming up with researchers at the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre to create a Dreamliner experience that’s all about wellness. That includes sleep-friendly lighting programs, enhanced air quality, and a pro chef-curated food menu specifically designed to fight jet lag. This is the first time an airline has partnered with a scientific institution to study the effects of flight on wellness outside of medical emergencies. (As someone who literally needs days to catch up on jet lag and tries to eat a healthy diet even during travel, these are huge selling points.)
It’s a lot to deliver on. I flew from Melbourne to Los Angeles on the Dreamliner to experience it person. Here are the highlights.
There Really Is More Room
Let’s start with the plane layout, which accommodates 236 people (significantly fewer than the 300 people many airlines have configured the Dreamliner to carry). The first thing I noticed was the clean, intuitive design of each passenger space, the result of a Qantas collaboration with Australian designer David Caon. Each business class enclave felt especially private, thanks to curved, high-backed seats and mid-height partitions between seats in the center section. The window seats alternated in their positioning, adding to the sense of privacy for each person. Another cool feature much appreciated: Strategically placed power and USB outlets, so you don’t have to go digging into your seat to wrangle cords during your flight.
In premium economy, there appeared to be more room to stretch your legs and limbs without butting into another passenger. That being said, based on recent economy passenger reviews on the Perth to London flight, regular economy sounds like, well, typical economy — so if you’re flying long-haul, it may be worth it to drop the extra money for a higher class seat.
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Improved Air Quality
Until I flew on the Dreamliner, I took for granted how much air humidity affects the overall flight experience. We’ve come to accept dry, stale air as givens when we fly, but this single flight completely changed my mindset (and ruined me for all flights with non-enhanced air going forward). Qantas worked with the Charles Perkins Centre to determine an optimal air humidity and cabin temperature schedule to decrease jet lag during the flight — a major improvement, given that the temperature on most aircraft is randomly controlled by the captain or crew members. The results really kicked in a few hours into my flight, when I was shocked to find that I was breathing clearly and felt almost high (in a good way) from the improved air quality. Did it curb the jet lag effect? Admittedly, I mismanaged my own sleep schedule by watching a movie way past my intended “bedtime,” but I did feel more alert than I expected upon arrival, and other friends onboard noticed a marked difference the entire next day.
Bigger, Shade-Free Windows
Larger windows also helped to make the entire cabin feel more open and airy, and the Dreamliner’s are 65 percent bigger than traditional airplane windows, which means even middle seats can catch the view. Another cool feature: The windows don’t have pull-down shades. Instead, they can be dimmed to a deep blue tint that cuts out sunlight with the touch of a button. I was worried I would still be bothered by the little amount of light passing through, but it didn’t make a difference. They also developed an in-cabin lighting program to encourage sleeping and waking at specific times — a way to start syncing your circadian rhythms to your destination time zone while still up in the air.
Jet Lag-Fighting Menu
Much like the lighting program, the Dreamliner’s wellness-focused food and drink program — helmed by Australian celeb chef Neil Perry — was co-designed with researchers to work with passengers’ circadian rhythms. Unfortunately, the menu wasn’t yet available on my flight from Melbourne to LAX, so I didn’t have a chance to sample the dishes myself, but the offerings sound pretty amazing: probiotic-infused juice shots and kombucha to help with digestion; relaxation-boosting herbal teas; lighter, hydrating meal options like poke salad bowls and poached eggs with kale and quinoa; and tryptophan-infused hot cocoa to ease you into dreamland. The wellness menu is only available on Perth to London flights for now, but fingers crossed it makes it to the U.S. routes soon.
Is this the aircraft of the future? Let’s hope so. In an effort to gauge the overall impact flight has on wellness, Qantas is recruiting Dreamliner passengers and crew members to wear devices in flight that measure everything from mental state to immune function. That could mean even more passenger-friendly cabin design, tailored service and, yes — possibly even less jet lag in the long-haul.